This is my first Saturday at home for a long time, over the last month there has been a rush of courses and meetings, but at last I can stop, take stock and draw a breath. Last weekend saw my final study weekend with ERMC, and I was delighted this week to hear that I have passed my final MA taught module. This is genuine relief and not false humility as I had really struggled to write the assignment and felt as if I was squeezing a reluctant and emptybrain to painfully produce each word. Sue Woan one of the course tutors suggested that it was academic fatigue, after 4 years of study I think she was probably right!
This week has been busy too, with the End of Term Dinner at Wesley House, a friends birthday celebrations and a last meal and meeting with our Society of Contemporary Evangelists Group ( Yorkshire is too far away from Essex for an evening meeting).
Also Chris and Ness ( son and girlfriend) have been here too, not simply visiting but on placement from Cliff College,it has been good to hear how they have interacted with the various groups and events that they have taken part in. They led an "alt-worship" service last Sunday evening which was appreciated by all who were present. For me the most enlightening part of having them here came as we went on a tour of the Circuit, as I described the various Chapels to them it suddenly struck me that two Chapels close together are in villages served by exactly the same teams of clergy, both Methodist and Anglican, but they couldn't be more different in spirituality and outlook. One is very closed in on itself and focused on buildings and survival, whilst the other is very community and mission focused, also as a Chapel they sponsor two children in India. They both receive the same teaching and encouragement, and both congregations are prayed for and with, it is a fascinating insight , and in some ways it is very liberating.
So now I begin to look forward, two groups of packing firms have been to look at the jumble of possessions that currently fill our house. With children home from university we are performing the annual trick of squeezing 3 households into one; thankfully they weren't even slightly put off by this, and I will send three quotes to the Circuit Treasurer next week. As I showed the packers around I began to calculate just how many trips to the tip we are going to have to make. One of the other major tasks facing me is the need to make sense of our library, Tim and I intend to start on this task next week!
Today though I am taking time out to look back over the last five years, beginning with the decision to offer for Methodist Ordained Ministry, and the pathway of twists and turns that have led from there. Woven through all of this has been a lot of family stuff, Chris has undergone at least one operation every year since his major surgery in 2005, and alongside this we have made numerous trips in and out of London to visit consultants and specialists. This has placed a strain on both our emotional resources and our finances as a family and I must withstand the temptation to minimise in my thinking the impact all of this has had upon me. I know that the bout of depression I suffered in 2007/8 was directly connected with the stresses of all of this, but also with various other stresses that life so often brings.
I began training with ERMC part way through an academic year, and am really grateful for the way that I was accepted and integrated into the group. I value this training not only for itsecumenical nature, but also for its broadness, if I had gone to one of Cambridge's Residential Theological Colleges, I could to a large extent have kept close company with folk who agreed with my theological position ( yes I am aware that classes are taught across the Federation) but training with ERMC meant that I had to interact with people I disagreed with. This required a living out the grace and love of God, and although this could be difficult at times, it was also a recipe for growth!
During the course of the time I have been studying and preparing for Ordained Ministry my children have left home, Jo has gone to University in Sheffield and her twin Jon to Lancaster, Emma is living and working in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, having graduated with BMus Hons from Canterbury Christchurch. Paul is well on his way to being an English Teacher and Chris as I have mentioned is at Cliff College studying Theology. So all has been change. Perhaps one of the most difficult things for Tim and I to come to terms with has been that whilst my Candidating process for Methodist Ministry was successful Tim's was not, and although we can see that it was right the way that it was handled by the colleges and by a bungled paperwork problem centrally has left behind a bitter taste. Having said that Tim is grateful to Wesley House for supporting him through further training.
And so it is time to move on, I have no doubt that there will be future ups and downs, before we move on from Norfolk Paul and his fiancee Louise will be married in Kings Lynn, and we will have attended Tim's mum's 70th birthday. We will leave shortly after a sailing and camping holiday on the North Norfolk Coast, where Tim and Joanne hope to retain their title as North West Norfolk Week Champions!
One thing I can say through all of these ups and downs is that I have know God's hand upon me, and that s/he has walked with me even as I have questioned his nature, and hurled impassioned and anguished prayers towards heaven. S/he has grown and changed for me as I have stepped away from a narrowness of thinking and the comfortable theological box that I had so carefully constructed has been blown apart. Through all of this though the uniqueness of Christ has remained central to my understanding, and through him I have found a deeper grace and wider understanding of his love, for this I will always be grateful, for that understanding has enabled me to dare to begin to love myself.
I am aware that this post could go on and on, for it is not and probably cannot be finished, and so I will end here....